Syria’s Civil War Not Just A Syrian Issue, Says Harper

Baird says conflict poses terror threat that could spill over whole region
January 22, 2014 Updated: January 22, 2014

OTTAWA—The Harper government made clear Wednesday that it sees the terrorist entities spawned by Syria’s spiralling civil war as a serious security threat that will wreak havoc well beyond its borders unless a solution is found.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird offered that shared warning from separate foreign locales Wednesday, but admitted that they—like most others—are short on concrete solutions.

“I don’t tend to see this, though, as really just a Syrian issue,” Harper said in Tel Aviv before departing for Jordan, a neighbouring desert kingdom of three million people that has been overwhelmed by the overflow of the Syrian humanitarian catastrophe. 

Once there, the prime minister is expected to come face to face with the human cost of Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict when he visits a vast camp that’s warehousing almost 600,000 refugees.

“What, in my judgment, it has clearly become over time is very much a sectarian war that is backed by and part of a wider sectarian conflict in the region,” Harper said of the conflict that has left 130,000 dead and millions more homeless. 

Earlier in the day, Baird told an international peace conference in Switzerland that the regime of Bashar Assad deliberately opened the door to terrorists in order to help defend the Syrian president’s personal power and privileges. 

Baird said Assad invited in the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran. Other groups came in through the back door to join the fight, including affiliates of al-Qaida, he said.

“Assad’s war created a vacuum that has been readily filled by terrorists,” the minister said in a speech in Montreux, where he was attending the Geneva 2 peace conference. 

“The terrorist threat that is developing in Syria is real. It is a threat to the stability of the entire region and beyond. It is a war we have seen before on the streets of Baghdad, and its agents are ones who have been hardened by the wars of the last decade.” 

He called on the various Syrian factions to start the peace process by opening routes for humanitarian aid, setting up prisoner exchanges and negotiating local ceasefires.

Canada has expressed concerns in the past about militants in the fractured Syrian opposition. But Baird also commended their courage Wednesday in coming to the peace talks despite formidable odds, including death threats.

A political settlement is the only way to end the fighting and begin the slow process of rebuilding the shattered country, he said.

Baird also called on Russia to play a greater role in ending the bloodshed. The support offered by Russia has allowed Assad “to soldier on for the better part of three years,” he said, noting Russia’s role in the international effort last year to begin the process of stripping Assad of his chemical weapons stockpile.

There is an “expectation” that Russia will exert more influence on Assad to end the bloodshed and find peace, he said. 

With files from The Canadian Press